Our Working Orders

In both the Gospel and the First reading we are urged that our prayers to God should be persistent.  Far from being bothered or annoyed God desires us to communicate with Him – always.  Jesus urges us to be persistent. Why? To be fully human we need to be immersed in God, and the way to do this is to live a life of prayer.  Prayer forms us in the way of God; trains us, as his Holiness Benedict XVI writes, in the inner attitude of Jesus. If we can ‘live a life of prayer’ ultimately we live our life with a silent presence of God as our companion – this is what is meant by ‘prayer without ceasing’.  And we know, deep down, that we need this constant communion of prayer.

However, knowing and doing are two different things; God knows us, He knows that we need to grow in this persistent prayer – it doesn’t come easy to us. In the Gospel we see the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray.  They have been witnessing the greatness of the Lord first hand, but they are still in need of a closer relationship with God.  And in answer Jesus turns and teaches them how to pray by giving them the ‘Our Father’.  Now we notice that in this Gospel of St. Luke we see a shorter version being given to us, the familiar version is from the Gospel of St. Matthew, which is fuller – that there is a difference can be attributed to many reasons, most likely different occasions. A prayer that orders our thoughts in the right priority: we acknowledge God in His rightful relationship with us and then we ask for help in keeping our faith in Him.  This prayer, directly given to us by God Himself, Christ, is all we can ask for – God’s words that He desires to hear from us.  Along with the Psalms, and even more intimate, we have been given God’s own words in the ‘Our Father’ with which to pray – we need to delve deeply into this prayer there is so much that we could meditate on.  St Therese, the little flower, said that she could spend days just on the just the first two words ‘Our Father…’ and she is right – what joy there is in them.

But today I want to focus on third petition in the ‘Our Father’. It strikes me that maybe our longing to be in heaven sometimes blinds us to the meaning behind ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven’.  We have already acknowledged that we view God as ‘hallowed’, the most precious thing we can think of – He is sacred, revered. Now with this petition we are acknowledging that where God’s will is done His kingdom is there.  But this line isn’t some hopeful waiting for the Kingdom to appear.  This phrase, ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven’ isn’t some declaration of a by-stander urging God to act. We are acknowledging that where man is doing God’s will there is heaven, because where Man is doing God’s will man, through Christ, is one with the Father who is hallowed.  By doing God’s will, by living the faith, by living love, we are one with God. St. Paul’s words from his letter to the Galatians: ‘…I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me’ is made manifest, and joy and peace overflow. And by these words  ‘Thy Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ we also acknowledge the oppositewhere Man is doing only his own will – God is absent – and all we need to do is look around us to see where that takes us and how that makes us feel.

But maybe the most important aspect of this acknowledgment is the obligation for us to put into action what it proclaims.  We must make known to those around us, by living God’s will, that His kingdom is real, tangible and the true way.  By our adherence to His will through living the 10 commandments, the beatitudes, the greatest commandment and all of His teachings, in short by radiating love, we bring Him and His kingdom to earth.  This third petition is as much an acknowledgment as it is a work order for each of us.

So I ask myself and you – what is our attitude about the ‘Our Father’, is it a rote prayer that we just say; words we pay lip-service to; or is it a desire?
Do we desire that God is ‘hallowed’ in our minds and hearts?
Do we desire that God’s kingdom should be visible and lived by those around us?
Do we desire that we want to be an instrument to help bring His will to earth?

These not only should be desires of ours but they should be our primary desires.  In everything we do, everything we say we should desire that God is instrumental.  As the ‘Our Father’ is ordered with acknowledging God first and then our requesting that He help us in living that acknowledgment, everything we do should start with this same right ordering.

There is a beautiful prayer that is included in the Liturgy of the Hours – but is also known and prayed by many.  It is a beautiful example of desiring that all we do is correctly ordered and that we can be part of this third petition:  ‘Thy Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. It gets to heart of the words:

Father, may everything we do
begin with your inspiration,
and continue with your saving help.
Let our work always find its origin in you,
and through you reach completion.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. AMEN

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A Personal God

One of the most profound aspects of the Christian Faith is that it is a personal relationship with God. Many of the great faiths of the world are either more philosophies of life and living (such as Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism); or, have as their paradigm a person who is the founder or prophet such as Mormonism, and Christian Scientism; or view God in a transcendent and detached relationship as Islam does. Our elder brothers and sisters in the Judaic Faith to a degree share our singular and personal relationship with God, but they haven’t accepted the intimately personal relationship of God among us as man.  They don’t accept that God came among us as Jesus Christ. But, be that as it may, they recognize the personal concern of God in our lives and His participation in our journey.

I am reminded of this every time I hear or read the past Sunday’s first reading from Genesis – I am struck by God’s closeness.

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre,as he sat in the entrance of his tent,while the day was growing hot. Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said:“Sir, if I may ask you this favor,please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet,and then rest yourselves under the tree. Now that you have come this close to your servant,let me bring you a little food,that you may refresh yourselves;and afterward you may go on your way.”

‘Sir’, Abraham greets the three men as ‘Sir’. Does he recognize God as Trinity, in front of him? It might seem so. I like to think so. Some great men of the Church like St. Augustine think so; and of course the famous icon by Rublev is written as so (icons are considered written not painted).  In this reading we have a God, who visits us, all three persons came among us and met us where we are.  Even those who don’t necessarily think it was a visit of the Trinity it is, at the very least, a foreshadowing of God as Trinity.

What this highlights is that for Catholics we live our faith not as philosophy that we try to emulate or some great and glorious code that makes us better people.  Our faith is personal, relational; as well as the reason for our being. Our Creator is intimately concerned with our very welfare; He has come among us in varied ways, and ultimately became one of us to reveal to us His very being.  He did this not just to be with us; but since we are a creation of His, our very being, in its most full and healthy state is of the same makeup as His.  As sons and daughters share their parents’ physical attributes even more so do we share with our creator His spiritual attributes.  We are of God, we are best when we allow ourselves to be, as St Paul said in the second reading: ‘perfect in Christ’.

But in addition to being of God, we are joyful and blessed that He is among us.  He isn’t some aloof creator, He is intimate.  He has walked among us; He lives within His mystical body, the Church; He is alive in the lives of saints – He is part of our family. To be a faithful Catholic means that we can’t live any other way and we look forward to when He comes among us yet again. And we are assured of His return, we hear at the end of the first reading God fully intends to be among us: “I will surely return to you …”Indeed the Bible ends with the words: “…“Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.

If those around us truly grasp this aspect of our faith they would not be wondering why we act as we do: why we speak our faith; why we demand to live our faith openly; why we seem so stubborn when challenged.  We are a proud and loving family; proud of our God and loving to all.

The Little and the Big

Today’s second reading has what is seemingly a confusing declaration from St. Paul.

Brothers and sisters: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.

Christ’s afflictions weren’t enough? Christ’s passion needs more to be done?

For almost two millennia this passage has been discussed and explained by many. St. Alphonsus’ explanation is as follows: “Can it be that Christ’s passion alone was insufficient to save us? It left nothing more to be done, it was entirely sufficient to save all men. However, for the merits of the Passion to be applied to us, according to St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa theologiae, III, q. 49, a. 3), we need to cooperate by patiently bearing the trials God sends us, so as to become like our head, Christ” (St Alphonsus, Thoughts on the Passion, 10).

We need to cooperate? Hmm. My take on this passage and St. Aphonsus’ explanation is: What is missing from Christ’s action is nothing – what is missing is that we need to bring the Gospel to our generation.  As St. Alphonsus reminds us St. Thomas Aquinas says ‘we need to cooperate’. It is up to us, Christ’s followers to introduce His Gospel to those who haven’t heard it, or who have and don’t or won’t comprehend it.  For Christ’s Passion to truly take affect here on earth, to change the world, to make manifest the Kingdom here, we need to show what the kingdom is about, we need to cooperate.  And just what does that cooperation entail? Witnessing to love, embracing everyone as family, loving our neighbor – really loving our neighbor.  Not just in the great debates and iconic issues of our time.  Not just going and righting the big wrongs of our day. As important as that is – it isn’t everything; indeed it is impossible if we don’t live love every moment of our lives. If we don’t radiate the Gospel in every situation we find ourselves in, small and large, we are witnessing to a weakened and watered-down Gospel. I would like to read you an example of true witness.  Please bear with me as I relate a story of one man’s day.

On Friday May 31st Pope Francis’ schedule was as follows:

  • Meeting with Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
  • Meeting with Archbishop Ferrer, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
  • Meeting with Mr. Vuz Jeremic, President of 67th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
  • Participating in the torchlight rosary procession and giving a reflection closing the month of Mary.

And in between these great meetings and events that concerned 1.2 billion Catholics and even the 6 billion inhabitants of the world was this hardly noticed event.  In the Chapel at Domus Sanctae Marthea the Holy Father met with 22 children; these children, from all over, Italy were patients of the Pediatric Oncology Department of the Gemelli Clinic in Rome. They had just come back from Lourdes. This is taken from the Vatican newspaper L’osservatore Romano:

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“When we were in front of the Grotto of Massabielle”, explained Don Gianni, “in order to bring a little cheerfulness to the situation we invented a game: draw the Grotto of Lourdes to show the Pope who has never been there”.  However, the priest confessed, while they were telling this to the children, no one ever thought that they would have ended up actually showing the Pope their drawings of the Lourdes Grotto.

The picture by Giovanni – an 8-year-old child from Sardinia, blinded by a brain tumor – was drawn on a Braille board based on a description given to him the assistants, and was so moving that they decided to actually send it to the Pope with an explanatory letter.  Not much more was needed for the fame to finish “in the best way possible”.

Little Giovanni and Pope Francis facing each other on Friday afternoon was quite a sight! Giovanni asked him: “Do you have a sweet tooth?’.

The Pope responded: “Yes, I really do.  I like sweets, Chocolate.  And you? Yes? Don’t they give you a tummy ache?”.

Then Giovanni showed him a large red bag: “Thanks goodness you like sweets because I brought you some from Sardinia”.

“Yum, thanks!”, the Pope said, “But shouldn’t we eat them with the other children?”.

The whole meeting seemed like a conversation between a grandfather and his grandchildren.  The little ones with their parents and their caregivers, sat in a semicircle in front of the Pope, who took his seat in front of the altar.  They prayed together and the Holy Father told the children a story: “Jesus once had to go to a very important place. But it took him a while.  He arrived after midday and the disciples immediately asked him: ‘Teacher how, come you arrived so late?’. Well do you know what Jesus said? Listen carefully: ‘Along the way I met a child who was crying.  I stopped to stay with him’. This is Jesus’ way with a child who cries.  With a child who isn’t well.  He touched the heart of Jesus who loves him so much”.

The Pope Francis let little Michelle speak. “I am very happy”, she said, “to be here at your home with my friends from the Gemelli clinic, the doctors, volunteers and priests who came with us to Lourdes.  It’s nice to be able to really see you and not just on television! At Lourdes we prayed for you, we drew the Grotto of Our Lady as a gift for you. We promise you we will continue to pray and we ask you to pray for all the sick children of the Gemelli and throughout the world”. The Holy Father thanked her, holding her close to him. He stroked her little head, half covered by a bandage.  Moved, he began speaking again to the children, continuing the discussion on Jesus’ love and asked them: “Is Jesus with us now? Is he? Are you sure? Good. He is with us because he always loves us. Jesus walks with us in our lives and when we have problems he is always near us”.

There was a very special atmosphere at the meeting, one of extraordinary love. The Pope could not stop showing his affection for the children, comforting their parents, thanking the doctors and volunteers for their work in aiding these little suffering children. Then the encounter closed with a prayer. But first the Pope desired to speak to the heart of the children and asked them to repeat with him: “Jesus is always with us, when we are happy and joyful. Jesus is always with us when we are sad. Jesus is always with us. Why? Because Jesus loves us. Never forget this”.

It will be difficult for these little children and their parents to forget it. It will likewise be difficult for the Pope to forget Michelle’s last request: “Pope Francis, pray for our parents so that they may have a smile like yours”.

(Mario Ponzi – L’osservatore Romano, English edition 6/5/2013)

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THIS is what cooperation is all about!

THIS is what being the family of God is all about!

Being in the moment with the same love for the ‘little’ events as for the ‘great’ events.  May each of us take this witness and grow from it.

What they are missing

Dusk is setting and fireworks are starting to explode throughout the neighborhoods; in a little while I should be able to see fireworks on the horizon from the town south of our house. The fourth of July is being celebrated as it has for my whole life – or is it?

Today I tried very hard to find ‘typical’ July 4th movies and documentaries on our cable TV and I couldn’t. I turned the TV to the cable music station that plays seasonal/holiday music to at least hear some patriotic music and it was playing modern music like the Steve Miller Band and funk music – the only connection to July 4th was that our country was mentioned – none of the standards. It seemed that the day was being celebrated as a party day with no attention to reason for the celebration.  History it seems just isn’t as important as it was in the past; people don’t want to be bothered by our national patrimony – waste of time – not entertaining.

It is dawning on me just how hard it will be to encourage those I meet to come to terms with the faith of our fathers; what I thought was a resistance to the patrimony of the church is actually cultural disdain of why we are who we are. People don’t want to be reminded of the reasons we are here – maybe because it reminds them of the obligations we owe to those who preceded us – both nationalistically and eternally.

Tonight, it is melancholy to sit back hear celebrations that are being enjoyed for the entertainment factor only and not for the cultural and historical import.  Just as it is melancholy to witness many in church just going through the motions of attending Mass and not truly participating, not giving the Mass a chance to affect their lives.  Faith in both the country and most importantly Faith in God seems to be ebbing in importance with many and this is very precarious.

But, I am also reminded that in 1776 the times were very precarious, and of course through the millennia the Faith has gone through precarious times and we are still here to celebrate the gift of liberty and faith.  May, the God of our fathers, bless us in our journey and strengthen us in our participation in the experiment of the United States and the reality of God’s own plan.